Families and Relationships

How do we define a family?  Are families created by marriage licenses and birth certificates, by genetic markers and generational lineage, or by the strength of interpersonal relationships?  How do families shape their members’ health, wealth, and happiness in both the present and the future?  

Recent decades have witnessed dramatic social and demographic changes in families and households.  Using longitudinal and family-based data sets, we are learning more about the important implications families have for the health and well-being of family members. Even as families are experiencing profound transformations, the way societies group people into immediate and extended families remains a central feature of social organization. Not only does family membership carry certain rights and obligations, but it also defines key aspects of the social, psychological, and economic context crucial to human development.

Penn State has a long tradition of excellence in family research.  Our department offers the largest and most comprehensive family sociology program in the country, with specialized training available in demography, child and adolescent development, and social inequality.

As the site of the National Symposium on Family Issues, a landmark event for family researchers, we annually welcome about 200 top scholars and policy experts for a two-day, multidisciplinary discussion organized around a significant family issue. Students’ educational experiences are enhanced by listening to various perspectives on some of the most important social issues in the field.

Questions Our Faculty and Graduate Students Are Asking About Families and Relationships

  • How is the growing racial, ethnic, and economic diversity in the U.S. impacting families? 
  • How do people choose friends, partners, and mates?
  • How do social relationships affect health and well-being?
  • What are the causes and consequences of family and relationship conflict, abuse, bullying, and neglect? 
  • How do families shape child and adolescent well-being and development?